Thursday, February 14, 2013

Picking Words, Or P!nk's potty mouth

I picked up The Truth About Love by P!nk (how exactly do you pronounce that exclamation mark?) and have turned into a big fan. One think to be aware of: P!nk's language is frequently...earthy...for want of a better word. When writing songs, the woman swears. A lot.

Fortunately, I find this endearing rather than offputting. Makes me feel hip, young, with-it, and "down with the  young folk." However, I did see a review of one of P!nk's (gosh, that's hard to type, too) albums where the reviewer commented on P!nk's "potty mouth." That reviewer pointed out that P!nk's song "Fuckin' Perfect" came in two versions. The (I assume) original version's chorus goes like this:

            Pretty, pretty please, if you ever, ever feel
            Like you're nothing, you're fuckin' perfect to me

However, there's also the "airplay-friendly" version, which goes like this:

          Pretty, pretty please, if you ever, ever feel
          Like you're nothing, you're perfect, perfect to me

The reviewer's claim was that, since it was possible to rewrite the song to eliminate the word "fuckin'", the swear word was unnecessary and shouldn't have been used in the first poit. But I think the reviewer is missing a key point about how this chorus works.There's some intended discontinuity between the start and the end of the chorus, a movement from a childlike hope to a more adult confirmation coupled with a movement from a polite requst to a strong, personal assertion. For that movement to work there has to be a change. Much of that change is between the first three words of the chorus and the last five words.

The opening of the chorus ("Pretty, pretty please") is child-like/innocent. P!nk (this isn't getting any easier to type) sings that part higher in her register in a more child-like voice than she usually uses. The line-ends in the chorus aren't perfect rhymes ("feel" and "me" rhyme through assonance) which creates some dissonance between the first line and second line all by itself. P!nk sings the last line in an lower register creating more contrast. 

Using "fuckin'" further emphasizes this conflict: it's something that a teenager/adult, rather than a child, would say; it's earthier and more common (in the sense of "lower-class") than the "pretty, pretty please"; "fuckin'" (used in this kind of speech) is an intensifer: it indicates that the speaker really means the following word. While the person being spoken to at the start is implied and not referenced directly, the five words at the end are aimed at "you" making the last five words more personal. The use of "fuckin'" is also more personal speech than the opening line (something that the missing "g" in "fuckin'" also emphasizes by suggesting a particular person's speech pattern). "Fuckin'" also implies sex, again moving to adulthood ("In what way is this person perfect?" "In the fucking way"). That's all lost by removing "fuckin'".

In addition, by repeating the word "perfect" the differences between the start of the chorus and the end of the chorus is lost and, along with that, the movement. The most obvious change is that words are now repeated both at the beginning and the end of the chorus. While there are similarities in sound between the start and the end (the "p"s in "pretty, pretty" and "perfect") those sounds are interruped at the end by the harsher "k" sound in "fuckin'" at the end. Repeating "perfect" makes the beginning and the end of the chorus look more alike--which defeats what's happening in this couplet.

This couplet actually inverts what we normally expect: perfection is associated with a child which is what you once were; this chorus suggests that we have achieved perfection as we moved from being a child to an adult.

I think the reviewer was missing the point: that the airplay-friendly version of the song is a poorer song than the origianl. As a technical writer I don't spend a lot of time worrying about picking exactly the right word but I think Pink (I've given up) did.

If you're interested in seeing Pink  in action, a great place to start is her performance at the Grammys singing her ballad "Glitter in the Air". If nothing else it makes the case that the woman is fearless (and probably does sing better upside down than standing up as she claims). For something a little rockier, I like this live version of "Slut Like You" from The Truth About Love album.

Though, as an unregenerated male, after watching these videos I hope I can be forgiven for thinking about Pink what many men thought about Shania Twain: "All this!?! And I gather she sings, too?".

Reading or read

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